Christmas movies always show us that being single sucks — but that’s not true

December 25, 2023 - 11:27 AM
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Image by Samira Rahi via Unsplash

Being single sucks. At least that’s the impression you get when watching Christmas movies. So many of these films focus on finding love during the holiday season. But, can you name one about being happily single during the holidays? Probably not.

Love Actually, The Holiday, Falling for Christmas, Last Christmas, Single All The Way, How to Fall in Love by Christmas, Inn Love by Christmas — there are numerous Christmas movies about finding love. So many, in fact, that Netflix has dedicated an entire genre to them.

Christmas and holiday movies usually tend to center around a key belief: that people need a romantic partner to live “happily ever after.” Characters in these movies are often desperate to find a partner before Christmas. Even when people aren’t looking for love, someone usually comes along to “fix” the single person’s problems.

The flip side of this messaging is that being single sucks, especially during the holiday season. But, as a relationship and singlehood scientist, I can tell you that this is a lie.

Singlehood on the rise

Hollywood’s preoccupation with couples is surprising given how common the single lifestyle is becoming. There are more single adults in society now than there have ever been in modern history.

In Canada, the number of adults who live alone has more than doubled over the last 35 years. Among 25-to-29-year olds, the number of people who were single increased from 32 per cent in 1981 to 61 per cent in 2021.

Singlehood isn’t just for young people. In 2021, as many as 32 per cent of adults aged 35-74 reported that they were not involved in a married or common law relationship.

Are singles desperate for a relationship?

I lead the Singlehood Experiences and Complexities Underlying Relationships lab at Simon Fraser University. My research focuses on understanding when single and coupled people are happy and thriving, and when people may find their lives and relationships challenging.

My colleagues and I recently reviewed studies about single people. Our research highlights that societal views of single people are outdated and narrow.

We found that while some people do struggle with being single, many singles are also happy and thriving. Happy singles often have strong connections with family and friends, are sexually satisfied, may want to avoid the drama that can come with dating or live in societies that are more accepting of singledom. But their stories are rarely told.

The rise in singlehood can be attributed to many changes in society. People are delaying marriage, focusing on career or travel goals, going through separation or divorce, or choosing a single life over a coupled life.

Of course, wanting a romantic partner is still a common and perfectly valid goal. As many as 80% of people enter into stable romantic relationships at some point in their lives. But that doesn’t mean that single people who would like a partner are moping around or desperate to find one.

Singles still face pressure to partner up

Hollywood’s preoccupation with trying to “fix” single people by getting them to partner up is a reflection of the social pressures many single people continue to face.

The cliché of the sad, lonely and desperate single can leave single people feeling marginalized. Along with research colleagues, I examined the experiences of over 4,000 New Zealanders and 800 Canadian and American adults. Our study found single people often feel like they are “pitied,” “treated unfairly” and “discriminated against” by the very people that they might turn to for support.

For example, calling their mum for advice may also mean dealing with comments about settling down. Invitations to office holiday parties may mean attending solo, even though coupled colleagues get to bring their partners. Family holiday gatherings may lead to dealing with unwanted questions about their dating life or attempts to be set up on dates.

So, as you cozy up to watch re-runs of your favorite Christmas romcoms this holiday season, imagine an alternative ending — one where the single person enjoys their holidays surrounded by their friends and family, without lingering alone around the mistletoe.

And, as you gather with your loved ones, consider resisting the urge to ask your single friends and family about whether they are dating or when they will settle down. Many single people will be celebrating this holiday season with cheer, even without a romantic partner.The Conversation

Yuthika Girme, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.